Progressive Asian elections contrast disturbing headlines


Despite Americans being bombarded with news of violent conflicts throughout Southern Asia and the Middle East, a wave of new elections and progressive policies have begun to shift the region away from constant violence and corruption and toward a safer and more stable future.

A typical American watching the news lately could easily misconstrue the entire Middle East and South Asian subcontinents as a region declining into chaos. Even people in the educated and informed hubs of the United States remain unaware of the progressive movements in South Asia.

This ignorance is most likely due to the monopoly that extremist groups—namely the Islamic State, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda—have on Western media coverage. By using visible acts of violence to flout Western ideology, these groups have misled the American public into believing that the region is far less progressive than it is.

Easily forgotten is that billions of people living next door to Middle Eastern conflict areas have made significant strides toward a more peaceful and equitable environment. Pakistan, a country with almost 10 percent of the world’s muslim population, voted out the unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari in 2013. Zardari was convicted and exiled for his extensive involvement in corruption and nepotism. Current president Mamnoon Hussain has been accused of being aloof, but Pakistan has seen significantly less political bickering and tribal violence during his tenure.

Last year also marked a year of change for India, a home to 180 million muslims. The enormously popular Narendra Modi was elected to office last May and has spent much of his first year working to empower women and youth. Despite rumors of Modi’s involvement in the death of Indian Muslims, he has publicly promoted religious tolerance. He has also spent considerable time opening ties with the United States and other nations, decreasing trade restrictions and promoting entrepreneurialism during his first year in office.

Indonesia, the most populous Islamic nation, is home to over 200 million Muslims (or around 12.5 percent of the worlds muslims). Last fall, the humble Joko Widodo took charge of the world’s third-largest democracy. He has pledged to open his borders for investment and increased taxes to improve welfare policies. He has also taken a strong stand to aid the fight against corruption, which has historically hampered Indonesian development.

Even some smaller sub-continental countries saw positive changes in recent years. Last month, Sri Lanka grew tired of the infamously corrupt Mahinda Rajapaksa, and called for a special election. In a stunning defeat, Rajapaksa was voted out of office and replaced by Maithripala Sirisena, who has reversed many of the corrupt policies of Rajapaksa, many of which were used to install Rajapaksa’s family members throughout the government. Rajapaksa is widely suspected of ordering the genocide of Tamil rebels, a small minority in the North, at the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2008. As a result, his removal from office has been lauded as a successful push towards a fair and just democracy.

Last year was a watershed year for progressive Asian leaders and their people. Emphasis was placed on promoting peace, developing diplomatic relations and moving nations forward with socially progressive policies. In the Muslim regions of Pakistan, Indonesia and India, Islam has proven to be a driving force for positive change. It will be a long and arduous path to regional peace and political stability. However, it seems imperative that current successes do not go unrecognized, even if they are absent from headlines.

Rourke Healey is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major. He can be reached at




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